"Things that are and are not, she thinks, and the dog is a snake."
In this fantastic and fantastical debut, C.J. Lavigne concocts a wondrous realm overlaying a city that brims with civic workers and pigeons. Led by her synesthesia, Verity Richards discovers a hidden world inside an old Ottawa theatre. Within the timeworn walls live people who should not exist--people whose very survival is threatened by science, technology, and natural law. Verity must submerge herself in this impossible reality to help save the last traces of their broken community. Her guides: a magician, his shadow-dog, a dying angel, and a knife-edged woman who is more than half ghost.
With great empathy and imagination, In Veritas explores the nature of truth and the complexities of human communication.
About the author
C.J. Lavigne was born in Kingston, ON, but grew up all over Canada, from Comox, BC to Barrington Passage, NS. Since 2007, she has divided her time between Ottawa, ON, and Red Deer, AB, where she currently resides and works as a professional communications scholar who writes on television, gaming, and popular culture; at other points in her life, she's been a barista, tech support supervisor, marketing manager, freelance editor, and--briefly--radio DJ. In Veritas is her first novel and is part of the Nunatak First Fiction Series.
- Short-listed, Crawford Award
- Short-listed, Airdrie Reads
Excerpt: In Veritas (by (author) C.J. Lavigne)
Verity and Jacob exchange her pleading glance for his quick grin, and she edges into the front hall while he is still talking; it takes only a moment to slip on her shoes and lift her jacket and a soft grey scarf from the coat rack near the landing. A moment later and she is out the door, sliding her hands into her pockets.
If the inside of the townhouse can be a well of confusion, marked by odd flurries of light and the snapping ozone of Jacob's ranging hobbies, then the city, as always, is a tornado. Verity stops on the front step and closes her eyes until she can reconcile the clouds that passing traffic sends snaking across her vision, and the way the sun's warmth smells of oil and cloves. Only when she finds her balance among the sounds of the street does she allow herself to look at the spreading leaves of the oak tree, which chime like bells and lightly sting her fingertips, or the slab of sidewalk that tastes of lint and soiled leather.
When the world resolves itself, the dog is waiting for her. It is a worn shred of shadow sitting patiently at the foot of the stairs, and yet it has a particular solidity, as though the earth might crumble and open beneath the weight of its feet. Verity feels the gravity pull of it, and she stills for a long breath before judging it safe to descend the steps. The dog remains sitting, its yellow eyes watching. It wags its tail once.
Verity tries to keep her gaze steady, but there's a bird in the tree chirping a streak of mauve. Then the door has opened behind her and the two children are streaming out and down the stairs. The young boy's squeals are a spike through her temple. The mother follows more sedately, hands clenched on her purse and an irritated sigh puffing her lips. She pays Verity no attention whatsoever.
"Puppy!" yells the girl. The black dog bares its teeth and she wisely detours in the opposite direction, her small feet barely wavering. She has been distracted by something crumpled and dry on the sidewalk, about ten feet away. Her brother follows. Verity just glimpses the sad remnants of a cracked dragon wing and a scaled, half-flattened tail.
"Neat!" crows the boy.
His sister runs back to the base of the spreading tree. "I need a stick," she proclaims. "Need a stick. I wanna poke it." She sets one hand against the bark of the tree's trunk and stands on tiptoe, reaching up for the branches several feet above her head.
"What are you--oh, leave that alone." The children's mother finds her voice, stepping forward, her heels clicking on the steps and then the concrete until she can get a view of the sidewalk and the crushed form that has caught her son's attention. "Don't touch that, honey. It's just a dead rat. It's full of germs." She ignores the dog, but she does cast a glare back over her shoulder at Verity. "Someone should keep the property cleaner."
Verity swallows the taste of cactus thorns--she wants to say we have no rats--but when she opens her mouth, the woman has already moved on, grabbing the little boy's hand and herding both children further down the block. Her arm is already waving as she hails a taxi.
When Verity looks back at the sidewalk, she doesn't see wings anymore--only matted fur and the stiff wormy twig of a broken tail now naked and pink.
The dog has paced several feet away down the sidewalk, where it sits once more, waiting attentively.
"You want me to go with you," she guesses slowly.
The dog waves its tail again.
The dog only cocks its head this time, one ear turning sideways.
Verity sees the world stretching jagged and uncertain before her; in the shadow-dog's attention, she feels the pull of the magician's gaze. In the maelstrom of the city, her balance shifts.
At her back is the familiar comfort of the townhouse--the careful spaces she would know blindfolded, the golden dust of the kitchen and the safety of Jacob's flashing grin. She could turn and take five short steps to refuge.
On impulse, she draws a breath and turns slightly to the side, gesturing with her chin. "The, um, dead thing on the concrete," she says. "What is it? Did you see a rat, too?"
She is, she realizes, standing on a city street, talking to a dog.
The dog looks at her. Then it wags its tail again, deliberately, and lets its black tongue spill out over its teeth.
It is, she thinks, laughing at her.
Verity sighs, and steps forward.
Praise for In Veritas:
"[We] walk away from the book with a better understanding of what we choose to see and not see, and how our own stories--consciously and unconsciously filtered through our own perspectives and biases--can simultaneously tell only part of the truth while also revealing the core of who we are."
~ V.F. Armstrong, Strange Horizons
"Lavigne's debut urban fantasy novel, part of the 'Nunatak First Fiction' series, is full of wonder, darkness, and hope.... Reminiscent of the best of Charles de Lint, this is a book readers will not want to put down."
~ Jennifer Beach, Library Journal
"I believe this is C.J. Lavigne's first novel. If so, it is a humdinger of a debut. Reading it was like discovering the joy of reading all over again. An exhilarating novel, despite the pervasive sense of Damocles Sword dangling, because the description and concepts elevate the reader's mood above the potential fate of the characters. This be an amazing book."
~ R. Graeme Cameron, Amazing Stories
"While Ottawa's reputation as 'Dullsville on the Rideau' precedes itself, it was not properly quantified until 2013, when, at the inaugural 'Boring Awards,' Ottawa [was] named Canada's most boring city. There is little doubt that if the members of the jury had been aware of Ottawa's preponderance of dragons, ghosts, and sorcerers, the results would have been different. These are exactly the types of creatures that populate Lavigne's magic-realist version of Bytown. Beyond the novel's fantasy elements, however, there is a nuanced meditation on language and its role in reflecting and determining truth."
~ Zachary Abram, Canadian Literature
"In Veritas by C. J. Lavigne is another book you can sink into. It's a tale that follows a young woman named Verity, whose synesthesia takes on some fantastical elements that make her not quite fit in the mundane world or the magical underbelly she finds in her hometown of Ottawa. If you loved The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab (another top read of mine this year), chances are you'll love In Veritas as well."
"For a story about those struggling to exist in a world that cannot see them, whose gaze and language limits and alters, using dreamlike and distorted description with words that will never be quite right is the only way to tell it."
~ Nadia Tudhope, The Cascade
"The perfect mix of incandescent writing and enthralling storytelling. C.J. Lavigne has given us something we can believe in. Learn to see the dragons."
~ Tanya Huff, author of The Enchantment Emporium
"Like all the best fantasy novels, In Veritas shows us our own world in a way we had never quite considered but somehow have always known. Reading this was like looking through my glasses right after I've cleaned them. I'll never look at my city in quite the same way again."
~ Kate Heartfield, author of Armed in Her Fashion
"Verity is a richly-realised protagonist whose strength and strange vision unites a complicated community, with the very fabric of reality at stake. In Veritas is a surprising and rewarding novel from a talented author."
~ Candas Jane Dorsey, author of Ice & Other Stories